YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte will extend his tour of duty a second time, adding a third year as head of the command he assumed in May 2002, officials said Wednesday.

LaPorte, who also heads the United Nations Command and the combined U.S.-South Korean Combined Forces Command, previously agreed to extend his tour last November. He was scheduled to depart in early 2004.

“The (Republic of Korea)-U.S. alliance, while very strong, is in an important transition,” LaPorte said in a USFK statement. “I am excited to continue to have a role in transforming our forces, realizing Korea’s vision for defense and building our relationship far into Korea’s bright future.

“Judy and I are honored to be asked to extend our tour in Korea,” he said in the statement, referring to his wife.

“We have thoroughly enjoyed our time here, meeting and working with our wonderful Korean hosts. We sincerely appreciate all the kindness and friendship that the Korean people have extended to us and look forward to continuing to work closely together.”

USFK officials would not say how the request for LaPorte’s extension came about but noted in the release that he “serves as commander at the request” of the U.S. president and secretary of defense.

Only a handful of senior officers have done a three- year tour in South Korea: Six U.S. generals have served three- year tours or longer since 1950. The longest to serve was Gen. John H. Tilelli Jr., who was U.S. Forces Korea commander from July 1996 to December 1999.

LaPorte’s stint as commander has been marked by seminal events in the Korea-U.S. alliance that dates to the Korean War. This year, officials from the two countries inked pacts to close Yongsan Garrison by 2008 and eventually to move virtually all U.S. troops to expanded bases south of Seoul.

The two nations also signed an agreement to remove 12,500 U.S. troops over the next three years. The first of that number, 3,600 2nd Brigade Combat Team troops from the 2nd Infantry Division, deployed to Iraq earlier this year in a historic shift of forces from South Korea to another combat zone.

LaPorte, a 36-year Army veteran and Rhode Island native, also presided over the roughest patch in recent memory, when a U.S. armored vehicle ran over two young South Korean schoolgirls. The incident — and ensuing military trial which absolved two soldiers of responsibility — sparked months of sometimes violent protests against the presence of U.S. forces in Korea.

Since then, LaPorte’s command has made several efforts to reach out to the Korean public. He started the Good Neighbor Program, which recruits hundreds of soldiers in community-building events with South Koreans. LaPorte also engaged in a live Internet debate with four young South Koreans.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now